The Bigger Picture
Published on May 15th 2011 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
Even though the 2012 US Presidential and Congressional elections are still 18 months away, Republicans actually began their 2012 political campaigns just after the 112th Congress was sworn into office on January 3rd of this year.
First, on the heels of their November mid-term election victories, the leader of Republicans in the US Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell said “that our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office.” Congressional Republicans then proceeded to propose and pass a series of bills to cut spending and enact their social conservative agenda instead of measures designed to reduce unemployment and spur the American economy.
Even though none of their spending bills had any hope of being passed by the US Senate, Republicans continued to reject attempts by President Obama to enact a federal budget for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year that would eliminate a smaller amount of federal spending. The end result was a series of small spending cut measures that did nothing to reduce unemployment, but instead threatened to shut down the federal government and damage America’s fragile economic recovery in the process.
Although President Obama truly desired to work with Republicans in crafting bi-partisan solutions to America’s economic and budget deficit problems, he is also a realist when it comes to politics. So after Republicans spent the first three months of their term rejecting attempts at bi-partisan compromise, President Obama decided that since Republicans only cared about defeating him in 2012, he would announce he was seeking re-election 19 months before Election Day.
But despite his many attempts to strike a compromise with Republicans, many Americans nonetheless blame President Obama, at least in part, for the gridlock that currently envelops Washington DC, instead of just the Republicans who refuse to compromise with the President. This is a reflection of the fact that many Americans don’t really understand the constraints our Constitution places on their President’s power. The President can veto laws that he doesn’t support, but is also powerless to force Congress to pass the laws America needs to address its problems.
So if President Obama is to succeed in his quest to win re-election in 2012, one of the most important tasks for the President and his campaign team is to educate American voters about the difficulty of running a country when his opponents’ top priority is preventing him from doing so. Many Americans, including myself, have long believed that a divided government leads to more bi-partisan and effective laws and policies. But this belief is also based on our assumption that politicians on both sides will be willing to strike a compromise.
However one of the main disadvantages of a divided government is the inability of the government to function effectively if politicians on one side determine they have more to gain politically by not compromising with their political opponents. Since the Tea Party movement doesn’t believe in making compromises, Republicans, who were elected to Congress in 2010 thanks to their support, believe they have more to gain by opposing President Obama than they do by compromising with him for the sake of our country.
But in addition to painting his Republican opponents in Congress as obstructionists more interested in advancing their Tea Party supporters right wing political agenda, the President’s other task is to compare and contrast his more ‘compassionate’ vision of America with the Republican and Tea Party movement’s more selfish and self serving vision of America. The President wisely began painting this picture of his vision versus that of his Republican opponents soon after he announced he was running for re-election last month.
Since the winner of American Presidential elections is decided by the votes of moderate, independent or swing voters rather than the more liberal and conservative voters who form the core of the Democratic and Republican parties, it is important that the President spend as much time as he can between now and the 2012 election painting the Republican Party as one that is dominated by hard line conservatives. By doing this it is more likely than not that the swing voters President Obama will need to win re-election will view whoever the Republicans nominate to run against him as an extension of the party’s right wing base.
Because the President will not have any viable Democratic opponents to run against in the 2012 Democratic primaries, he will also be able to conserve his campaign funds for the General Election. On the other hand President Obama’s Republican opponent will not only have to spend a lot of money waging a campaign to win the Republican Party’s nomination, but will also have to go on the record in favour of political positions that appeal to the Tea Party movement, but are a turnoff to many of America’s more moderate independent voters.
If President Obama succeeds in portraying Republicans in Congress as obstructionists and their candidate for President as beholden to the right wing views of the Republican base, then it won’t matter who his Republican Presidential opponent is because President Obama will win the independent voters as well as the national popular vote.
But the more important electoral calculus is winning at least 270 electoral votes. If President Obama succeeds in winning the same 28 states he won in 2008, then he will finish with 359 electoral votes. 17 of these are solidly Democratic states that guarantee him 229 votes and President Obama won another 7 states with 53 electoral votes by large margins ranging from 6% to 14%. Since these states are unlikely to swing back to a Republican, even if his Republican opponent is able to win all the big swing states like Florida, Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina that Obama carried in 2008, President Obama still wins the electoral vote by a margin of 282 to 256.
So although a lot can change in 18 months, this is why I predict President Obama will win re-election in 2012.